Kyoto in Autumn or ‘koyo’ is a completely new experience altogether. Every street is lined with golden or deep red leaves and when you visit, there is a feeling that you’ve caught something fleeting and really special.
For those who want to go Autumn chasing in Kyoto, here is my sightseeing guide to all the places you just can’t miss out.
1. SHIMBASHI DORI
Shimbashi Dori is sometimes (quite often!) known as the ‘prettiest street in Kyoto’ for its weeping willows, traditional buildings and that picturesque little canal running alongside the street with little bridges going across. It’s especially quaint here and a stroll down the street and around the surrounding area is a must!
2. YASAKA SHRINE
Yasaka Shrine is the perfect starting point for exploring the preserved area of Kyoto. Come here in the morning and start your day with the numerous food stalls that open from 10AM. Explore the grounds also and admire the beautiful shrine gates in the area before moving on to explore all the attractions in the nearby surrounding area.
3. KIYOMIZUDERA (KIYOMI TEMPLE)
I’ve always wanted to visit Kiyomizudera however the last time I was in Kyoto, I just didn’t have time. Kiyomizudera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto however unfortunately, the main temple with the postcard famous view is currently under restoration. That said, there’s still plenty to see so worthy of a visit. There’s an incredible view of autumn trees along the side of the temple and Matsubara-Dori, the main street that leads to Kiyomizudera, is an absolute must do for all your souvenir shopping and is a haven for matcha lovers as well.
4. HOKANJI TEMPLE
Hokanji temple is not as well known as all the other temples in Kyoto (it’s hard when there’s so many temples in Kyoto!) but still one of my favourites. There’s the most beautiful view of the temple on one of the small streets leading down towards it and coincidentally, there is also a matcha cafe right where I’m standing serving one of the best matcha ice-creams I’ve ever had.
5. KODAIJI TEMPLE
For those who are fascinated by the traditional temples and gardens that Kyoto has to offer, don’t forget to stop by Kodaiji temple. It’s a little hard to find but if you just keep following the maps, you’ll eventually make it there. The temple grounds aren’t very big, but there is a heap to look at packed into a small space. In Autumn, it is especially beautiful with all the maple leaves and shh, there’s even a bamboo grove here too if you feel like skipping the crazy crowds at Arashiyama.
6. IMPERIAL PALACE GARDENS
In Autumn, Imperial Palace Gardens blooms with its endless rows of maple trees and humungous ginkgo trees. It’s the perfect place for a sunset picnic / stroll and if you love dogs, you’re going to see a zillion of the cutest local dogs hanging around here!
7. GOLDEN PAVILION / KINKAKUJI
It’s one of those ‘must-visit’ places in Kyoto so we thought we’d pop this on the itinerary too. Kinkakuji is famous for its stunning gold-leaf covered building however you’re not actually allowed inside the temple – tourists must follow the footpath around the garden to view the temple from afar. It is definitely a pretty sight however be aware, it was also one of the most jam-packed, busiest places we’ve ever visited.
8. SANNENZAKA + NINENZAKA
Nearby Kiyomizudera and Matsubara Dori is the famous Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka streets. During the day, there are heaps of traditional shops open here however what is especially famous about this street is the numerous steps leading down the streets. They remind me of Spirited Away (though Spirited Away actually got their inspiration from an equally beautiful place in Taiwan called Jiufen which was even more packed when I visited a couple of years back).
9. GION DISTRICT / HANAMIKOJI DORI AREA
Around Hanamikoji Dori, there is a beautifully preserved area filled with traditional wooden buildings. At night, this is where you can have a good chance to spot geishas. But by day, it is filled with tourists wandering the streets with little eateries as well.
Another one of my autumn favourites was Tofukuji temple, which is a short walk from the more popular Fushimi Inari Shrine. However, Tofukuji temple is totally just as exciting to visit, if not better! And when it comes to autumn, the temple grounds are completely covered with maple leaves. Just have a look here! If you do visit Tofukuji, be sure to walk around the entire gardens as there are a heap of beautiful viewing points to check out.
11. FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE
Of course, everyone goes to Fushimi Inari Shrine when in Kyoto! Not many autumn leaves around here, but definitely still a place worthy of a visit. See my full post on Fushimi Inari here.
And, saving the best til last. Even more beautiful than I expected, Arashiyama is definitely an autumn kind of destination and there is so much to the area than just visiting the famous bamboo forest here. Do wander along the Hozu River because there are stunning postcard worthy views of all the beautiful shades of Autumn here. I absolutely loved it.
I hope you enjoyed this guide and let me know if you visit any of these places in Autumn!
Photography: Rowena Cao